The CUVC: A good truck for my best friend

May 1, 2014
Working on a 1985 M1008 single cab, 8-foot bed tactical 1.25 ton, 4X4 Chevrolet Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicle.
1985 M1009 CUCV Blazer
1986 M1008 CUCV

Quite some time ago, I met Jack (“JAK”) while I was stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Glenview in Illinois in 1991. Jack loved fishing, and owned an old boat that reminded me of the S.S. Minnow featured on the TV show Gilligan’s Island.

Jack needed a decent-sized truck to pull that boat out of the waters of Lake Michigan, which was only about a mile east of his residence in Winthrop Harbor, Ill. He knew I was into fixing transmissions and general repair work, so he asked me to find him a truck suitable to tow the “Minnow” to and from the lake.

Time went on, and in 1994 I transferred from NAS Glenview to Fort Worth, Texas. Shortly into my tour in Fort Worth, I ran into a retired Marine who was selling a M1008 single cab, 8-foot bed tactical 1.25 ton, 4X4 Chevrolet CUCV (pronounced “cuck-vee”) that had around 7,000 miles on it!

At first, I was unsure whether Jack needed this type of military truck to haul his boat around in, and felt that he may get away with a standard Chevrolet 4X4 pickup instead. I examined the 1985 CUCV and found that it seemed to be in decent working order. The “Gunny” even let me borrow the truck for a week to see whether it was a good fit for Jack.

The truck came with a J-series 6.2L Diesel rated at 135 horsepower and a TH400 transmission, NP 208 manual transfer case, Dana 60 front differential, Corporate 14 bolt rear differential w/Detroit locker and 4.56 gears. Talk about a “stump puller.” It had tremendous low-end torque.

The vehicle came with the small convoy light setup, grill guard, tow hooks, vinyl bench seat, tactical paint scheme, heavy-duty pintle type rear bumper hitch, dual batteries, heavy-duty cooling system, standard gauge pack, and a military data plate that included curb weight, payload max, gross weight max, VIN, date of manufacturer, stock number, warranty of 12,000 miles / 12 months. The second plate was the shipping data plate that included the axle loads, GVW pounds, curb pounds, normal load condition, height, length and width of the truck, with a note to airlift the truck by pallet or net only.

6.2L Detroit Diesel in a 1985 M1009 Blazer
HD 1985 TH400 4x4 Case; fits all CUCV models 1983-1987
NP 208 Drop Right Standard T Case

After I contacted Jack and let him know that the truck seemed to be in good mechanical condition, he agreed to purchase the truck on one condition: that I get rid of the tactical paint scheme and paint the truck dark green. I contacted a friend of mine who had a small body shop, and he agreed to paint it.

Let me tell you, tactical paint really covers a lot of imperfections in the body. We had to straighten out many body panels in order to “straighten” up the truck so that the new paint would look acceptable. After about a week of sanding and pulling out panels, we were able to finally paint the truck. Jack was scheduled to fly in to pick up the truck a short time later, so we really had to push the time to get finished with it.

When Jack finally arrived, he liked what he saw, and was excited to get in the vehicle and take it for a spin. The diesel roared to life as it kicked out some black smoke at first. During the initial road test, he noticed that the vehicle tended to rev a little high, especially above 45 to 50mph. I assured him nothing was wrong, but I did mention that the truck had a set of 4.56 gears and this combination was meant for low-speed/high-torque military convoy application. He figured that this is exactly what he needed to get that “Minnow” out of the water back in Illinois.

Jack needed to head back to Illinois rather quickly, since it’s about a 14-hour ride from Fort Worth to his home in the “Harbor,” which is only 9 blocks south of Wisconsin’s southern border. A few hours after Jack left Fort Worth, I received that dreaded phone call.

Jack mentioned that he was being passed up by everything except moped. Again, I explained to him that the gearing on the vehicle is not conducive to high speeds. He stated, “Carl, I understand what you are telling me, but at the speed I am going, it’s going to take 2 days to get home and that would be pushing it.”

Luckily, Jack was an easygoing guy, but he certainly sounded frustrated.

As luck would have it, over the years, Jack did have some reoccurring electrical issues that were ironed out at a local repair shop near his home. Jack would sometimes mention to me that he likes the truck overall, but he still did not care for excessive revving of that diesel above 50 mph.

Well, I had a solution!

I transferred to Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York in 2000, and continued to work on transmissions while doing some contract work with some local landscape companies to help me finish my bachelor’s of business administration degree at Northwood University. In the summer of 2001, Jack called and asked whether I could come out to the Harbor to look at the old CUCV.

My idea before I left was to remove that venerable TH400 and replace it with a TH700. This modification would reduce the motor revolutions by 400 to 500 rpm. Now Jack would be able to have the best of worlds: strong low-end torque and an overdrive /lockup to quell excessive rpm at highway speeds.

John "Jack" Kuehl

I finished the rebuilding process on the 4X4 TH700 that included a Transtec major overhaul kit, all new bushings, Corvette servo, HD 2-4 band, Fairbanks Hydraulic lock-up kit, lock up converter, TV cable, and an external heavy-duty Hayden cooler. I built a NP 208 transfer case that would bolt on the back of the 4x4 TH 700.

I took two weeks of annual leave and drove out to the Harbor with all my gear to get Jack right once and for all. I spent the better part of the two weeks working on that old truck and finally finished it out just prior to returning back to New York.

Jack was very pleased with the results of my “project” as we drove it together down I-294 at about 65 to 70 mph. Jack noticed that the old diesel was not trying to leave its motor mounts anymore.

We returned to his residence and proceeded to down a couple of Hamm’s beers, his favorite beverage.

Jack drove the truck more after the drivetrain conversion, but in 2005, was struck with terminal cancer. My best friend did not have long to live. I received word that his condition was grave, so I went out to see my old friend one more time.

I asked him to breakfast. You see, Jack normally hates going to breakfast — I always liked going to breakfast and he always refused to go. NOT THIS TIME, during my final visit. He agreed to go with me to my favorite diner in the Harbor. I carried him to the car and got a wheelchair for him at the restaurant. The following day, we said goodbye. I was called within 48 hours of returning home and was notified that Jack passed away. I lost my best friend.

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